It is estimated that up to 1 billion bacteria reside on each individual tooth at any given time. Multiply that by 32 teeth, that’s a lot of bacteria to keep in check!
Good news is that most of the bacteria is harmless if kept under control with good oral hygiene, yet with as many as 80% of American adults battling with some form of gum disease, it’s easy for bacteria to create issues in the mouth that correlate to health risks in other parts of your body.
Correlation between oral health and heart disease
Studies from the Academy of General Dentistry (AGD) have established a clear link between the oral health and heart health. Gum disease alone, in fact, is a possible indicator of serious conditions like coronary artery disease (aka heart disease).
Further research suggests that the risk of developing issues like Endocarditis, an infection of the endocardium (the inner lining of your heart), and cardio vascular disease, which can lead to strokes, is increased when bacteria from the mouth enter and spread to the bloodstream. Because all the blood in your body gets pumped through the heart, bacteria have the opportunity to attach and damage areas in your heart or veins by causing clot formations.
However, it’s also the inflammation in your body’s soft tissues, like the gums and arteries, which create the largest cause for concern. Left unchecked, inflammation in the soft tissues can progress to life-threatening issues like atherosclerosis, a hardening of the arteries, or lead to clots which decrease blood flow, elevate your blood pressure and increase your risk of suffering a heart attack.
Watch for the warning signs of gum disease
Guard your heart, by protecting your smile. Gingivitis is gum disease in its earliest stages and can quickly develop into periodontitis which literally translates to “inflammation around the tooth”.
Watch for these warning signs: Red, swollen or tender gums; Bad breath or tooth sensitivity; Receding gums/ formation of deep pockets between teeth and gums; Changes in how teeth fit together; Bleeding gums while brushing or flossing.
Tips for decreasing risk for developing heart problems
Several risk factors for both heart and gum disease are the same. Keep these risk factors in check:
- Monitor your gum health. If you see “pink in the sink”, ie. bleeding gums, it’s time to take action.
- Limit smoking and use of tobacco products.
- Eat a balanced diet, including foods that are good for oral health.
- Keep diabetes under control. Diabetes reduces the body’s ability to fight infections. Since periodontal disease is a bacterial infection many diabetics are at higher risk.
- Stay hydrated, saliva production assists in protecting tooth enamel. Decongestants, antihistamines, painkillers and diuretics are just a few examples of meds that can reduce saliva flow—the body’s best natural defense against acids which can lead to an increase of plaque and bacteria.
Remember that maintaining a healthy heart means maintaining a healthy mouth. Finally, though regular dental exams and cleanings are essential to keep potentially harmful bacteria in check, your oral health really hinges on your home care. A twice-daily brushing and flossing routine is still the best way to proactively maintaining your oral and overall health, as well as a beautiful smile.